Looks Can Be Deceiving...
This post contains photos, numbers and information that could be triggering for those struggling with an eating disorder. If you find these things triggering please do not continue to read.
When you hear the word eating disorder, what image pops into your mind? Is it of a girl, frail with protruding bones? I bet it isn’t a girl who looks healthy and fit. I bet it isn’t a boy who is an athlete or a woman who is considered obese. When you see a person who is overweight by our societal standards what do you think? She must not exercise. She really must love the potato chip aisle. There is NO WAY she is struggling with an eating disorder.
We are all quick to make assumptions about other people based on their bodies…
Oh they must not work out..they don’t look in shape..
She can’t suffer from and eating disorder, she is way too heavy…
Oh wow, she has great genes.....she must be healthy because she looks fit.
She could stand to lose a little weight, maybe she would if she started ordering salads….
That girl is SO thin..she needs to eat a burger..
She must be so happy, she has the perfect body….
He is way too fat…that is so unhealthy…
I know many girls (1) currently struggling with very severe eating disorders that do not look like they have an eating disorder. Come to my support group. None of us are walking wafers, however we all suffer severely from eating disorders. These eating disorders can kill us and have wrecked our bodies, however no one knows because we aren’t currently 80 pounds.
This happened to me. I am proof that you can be extremely ill and struggling with an eating disorder, and not even look like it. Below are photos from three different times in my life. The first two sections were during my eating disorder and the last one is me right now, during recovery. In the first batch it seems obvious that there was a problem. In the second batch not so much….
A few years into my anorexia...
weight -112 pounds
height - 5/7
BMI - 17 (underweight)
Pant Size - 6
Dress Size - 2
Calories per day - 0-200
Exercise - 1 hour almost 7 days a week
Medical Problems - My blood work came back healthy and normal but I suffered from headaches, constipation, period was irregular, mood swings, fatigue, very obsessed with calories, foods, naming foods good and bad etc. I also suffered from body dysmorphia.
Three months before I entered treatment....
weight - 145 pounds
BMI - 22.7 - normal
Pant Size - 10
Dress Size 4/6
Calories per day (typically) - 0-700 as well as purging through excessive exercise
Exercise - almost 2 hours a day/ 6-7 days per week
Medical Problems - Osteopenia, major deficiencies in iron, folate, Bun/Create, Alk Phos, Cholesterol, protein in my urine, calcium and magnesium. I was told the folic acid deficiency can cause a severe irreversible neurological disease so I must get it back up immediately. Major intestinal issues, leaky gut, enlarging heart, heart pain after just walking up a flight of stairs. I was told I would have a heart attack at any moment. Loss of enzymes and bacteria and unable to properly process food. Major hormonal issues. Eye site worsened, achey bones and joints, lack of sleep, daily migraines, constant fatigue, brittle hair, dry and flakey skin, obsession with food, body, weight, had not had a period in 7 years, I could go on…. I was VERY VERY ill.
The point here is that in the second group of pictures I look way healthier. I was at my normal weight and normal bmi, but I was EXTREMELY ill with an eating disorder. My body had gone into starvation mode and gained weight on the very little food I was giving it. I was purging all my calories through exercise and pretty much on my death bed. My anorexia and exercise bulimia had completely taken over. It was at this normal weight that I entered treatment for an eating disorder, not at my lowest weight. It was at this normal weight that I was my most ill. It was at this normal weight that most people were envious and gave me the most compliments.
Everyone thought I was ok because I had gained back 30 pounds. I no longer had a spine sticking out or bones you could clamp onto, so all was good right? Nothing could have been farther from the truth. I was close to death. When I started to feel heart pain I was smart enough to go to the doctor and lucky enough to have a doctor that recognized I had a major problem and made me get help IMMEDIATELY even though I no longer had a BMI that was underweight.
(I know these aren't the best photos. I wear very baggy clothes
so it is hard to see my actual shape. I also have very few photos of myself today...shocker!
Weight - ????? I do blind weigh-ins
Height - still 5'7
BMI - Considered Obese
Pant Size - ummm leggings? I stopped wearing pants because of my swelling
Dress Size - XXL - If I wear anything smaller its tight on my swollen stomach (I'll write a post about this later)
Calories per day - 1800-2200
Exercise - I walk the dog for a mile a day, a mixture of lifting weights three times a week, yoga,
dance and I hike on the weekends
Medical Problems - Osteopenia, gut issues, hormonal issues, BUT, Nutritionally I am healthy.
So basically my problems now are just side effects from healing the damage.
Now, as I recover, I am considered obese. No seriously, my current BMI is obese. I have at LEAST another 30-50 pounds (who knows, I do blind weigh-ins) on me because of re-feeding/water retention/metabolism/ healing etc. People will assume that I got this way by overeating, that I’m unhealthy or that I don’t take care of myself. Those that don’t know me would never think I am struggling to recover from an eating disorder. That I’m just a normal, slightly heavier girl with a belly that can't pass the fries and needs to hit the gym. There couldn’t be anything further from the truth.
The truth is my body did this when I started eating normal again and I struggle every day to eat. I eat between 1800-2200 calories (which is the recommended amount for a moderately active 30 something woman). I exercise moderately by hiking and taking walks, lifting weights and dancing. I eat a variety of foods and mostly foods full of nutrients. My blood work is back to normal. I no longer have heart problems. I just got a true woman cycle for the first time in now 8 years and after 16 months of treatment. (I give that one a slow clap...periods are the WORST). I’m technically the healthiest I have been in 9 years other then my weight. Which seems to be the only thing people consider when they make their assumption about me.
Eventually my weight will go back down to its set point once my body has healed. When it trusts another famine isn’t coming it will say goodbye to the fat storage in my midsection. This takes time. This takes YEARS. Until then, I walk around in a body that is uncomfortable and that others assume is unhealthy. A body that is considered obese. A body that is actually the healthiest one I’ve had in years.
During recovery, I have been paralyzed by fear and anxiety to go out in public this heavy. (Look, I know I'm not a walking elephant, but when your weight changes this drastically and quickly, and you have a voice screaming in your head its disgusting, it certainly feels like it...) Knowing what people probably think about my weight and body makes me feel insecure and an extreme amount of shame. “Of course she would get fries…she is huge.” “What happened to her, she put on a ton of weight…”, "Is she pregnant?" Sadly, some have even had the nerve to say these things out loud, behind my back...and even to my face. (This is when I pray karma is real...haha). They are wrong. This is what recovery looks like. This is what happens when you re-feed. It is very difficult for me to eat french fries and my weight is solely from my body healing from an eating disorder not from over eating.
We MUST stop judging the book by its cover when it comes to people and their weight. We are all made with different sizes and shapes and proportions and genetics. You cannot always judge health by just looking at someone. You can’t always decide that someone does or does not have an eating disorder by how fat they are or know if they are healthy or unhealthy solely by their BMI.
For those of you out there that are not stick thin and struggling with an eating disorder, or are in recovery and “overweight” and struggling to keep going. You have at least one person, me, that understands. You don’t have to be too thin to be sick. Your metabolism can slow down if you starve yourself no matter what your weight. You also don’t have to be overeating to be overweight. Our bodies aren't working like a normal healthy body. Many of us struggle and no one knows because the media has decided to portray every person with an eating disorder as a walking skeleton. It’s simply not the truth. Eating disorders are not just about weight, there is a mental battle going on and that battle can be going on at any size.
Healthy does not mean thin.
Eating Disorders do not only come in one size.
"Overweight" does not mean unhealthy.
Many people out there need help and have no where to turn. Even doctors don’t believe they are struggling with an eating disorder because they don’t fit into the one characteristic of severely underweight. Go ahead…google it…there are a TON of blogs from people out there struggling and no one believes them because they don’t “look” anorexic. So they continue to starve, because that stupid little ED voice is saying…”see, you aren’t thin enough to have a problem….” This IS a problem.
This recovery process has truly opened my eyes to the assumptions I would make about others solely based on weight. It took me starving, gaining, and losing control of my body while it heals to see that these assumptions are not only wrong, but at times dangerous. I will say this, there was a time that it was obvious I had a problem, so I'm not trying to say you can't ever look at someone and deduce there is an issue. I AM however saying that this is not always the case. More often then not people who are suffering from eating disorders do not look like it. I will NEVER again assume that someone is healthy or unhealthy or decide if they do or do not have an eating disorder based solely on their weight. Weight is just what we see, but it isn't a perfect measure of what is going on inside the body and especially not what is going on in the mind.
- Sara -
1- This does not exclude men who struggle with eating disorders, I am just talking about in my personal life and right now I've only personally spoken to woman.